Do Democrats have a diversity problem?

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

What’s happening

White House hopeful Julián Castro ended his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday. “It simply isn’t our time,” he said in a video announcing he was leaving the race.

The exit of Castro, former secretary of housing and urban development in the Obama administration, provides another example of a minority candidate struggling as their white competitors have gained steam.

Sen. Kamala Harris, once considered among the frontrunners for the party’s nomination, dropped out in early December. The only other competitive African-American candidate, Sen. Cory Booker, has been polling in the low single digits for several months.

The Democratic field, which began as one of the most diverse ever, has winnowed to an all-white top tier of candidates. The most recent debate featured only one person of color, Andrew Yang. All five of the candidates who’ve qualified so far for the upcoming debate in January are white. 

Why there’s debate

Many on the left have expressed concern that an all-white top tier of the Democratic field might alienate voters of color that the eventual nominee will need to defeat Donald Trump in the general election. One of the key reasons Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 was a decline in black voter turnout. Others have argued that the party has a duty to represent its base so issues that matter to the various racial and ideological constituencies are heard.

Castro echoed a popular sentiment among liberals in blaming the primary process for the lack of diversity in the field. Having the predominantly white states of Iowa and New Hampshire vote first, he argued, puts minority candidates at a disadvantage. Part of the criteria for debate qualification is how many donors a candidate has — which some argue disadvantages minority voters who are less likely to have disposable income.

Some analysts say the lack of minority representation in the Democratic field isn’t as big of a problem as it may seem. The top of the field is actually historically diverse if you look beyond race, some argue, with a woman, a Jewish man and a gay man among the top three candidates. There’s also a significant chance that the nominee will choose a person of color as their running mate. 

Others have argued that it’s reductive to think black and Latino voters would only be excited about candidates of their own race. Part of the reason Castro, Harris and Booker have struggled is because the demographics they represent have given steady support to white candidates. Joe Biden has a strong advantage among black voters, and Bernie Sanders has been the top choice of Latinos.

What’s next

Several candidates, including Castro and Yang, have asked the Democratic National Committee to change its debate standards to allow a more diverse slate of candidates. The DNC has said it has no plans to adjust its process. The next Democratic debate is scheduled for Jan. 14 in Iowa.

Perspectives

Voters of all races perceive a white candidate as more likely to beat Trump

“As with most other Democrats, the majority of these voters of color claim electability is the key feature of their preferred candidate — and even when they design a prototypical candidate that doesn’t align with their polling preferences, generally concur that the 2020 primary’s white options are more electable than their nonwhite counterparts.” — Zak Cheney-Rice, New York

There is too much focus on white swing voters

“Part of the frustration has stemmed from the importance many primary voters have placed on defeating Mr. Trump. Some Democrats believe they have focused too much on appealing to white, non-college-educated voters who supported the Republican in states Mr. Obama won, such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, rather than boosting turnout among young and nonwhite voters who make up the party’s base.” — Ken Thomas, Wall Street Journal

White candidates are less likely to prioritize issues that matter to people of color

“For issues affecting marginalized U.S. populations to get the attention that some voters desire, individuals from those communities may need a seat at the table — and in this case, a lectern on the stage.” — Eugene Scott, Washington Post

The ticket for the general election is likely to be historically diverse

“The 2020 campaign is too volatile to make meaningful predictions about the Democratic ticket for November. But it’s likely that a woman, a black person or a gay man will wind up in one of the two top positions. That blend of politics and progressiveness is welcome, as long as it creates the strongest ticket and gives the nation its best chance to escape the terror of Trump.” — Peter Funt, USA Today

The expense of campaigns disadvantages minority candidates 

“The large amounts of money spent on presidential campaigns can pose an extra hurdle for candidates of color, who are often less well known and may have less access to institutional support than their white counterparts.” — Political scientist Niambi Carter to Time

People of color care about more than just a candidate’s race

“It’s also apparent that African American voters haven’t budged all year from Joe Biden and that Bernie Sanders has a strong following among Latinos. Voters point out that seeing themselves represented in a candidate isn't everything they're after this time around.” — Laura Barrón-López, Politico

The debate criteria block lesser known candidates from breaking through

“The strict qualifying criteria for the debates in this way weeds out ideological diversity in the party as well as racial diversity. ...The natural attrition of presidential campaigns will continue to whittle down the field; until then, voters deserve to hear from every candidate running.” — Editorial, Boston Globe

People of color may choose not to vote if they don’t feel represented

“An all-white debate stage might come off like a two-hour infomercial for minority voters about how the party doesn’t look like them.” — Edward-Isaac Dovere, Atlantic

The field isn’t representing the Democratic party’s multicultural image

“This Democratic primary isn’t playing out as anyone predicted or in remote accordance with the party’s image of itself and with its priorities. None of the top four candidates — Biden, Warren, Buttigieg and Sanders — is a person of color, three of them are 70 or older. ...For a party that celebrates diversity, pitches itself to underdogs and prides itself on being future-minded and youth-oriented, that’s a freaky, baffling turn of events.” — Frank Bruni, New York Times

The Democratic field is still extremely diverse

“It’s hard for me to see a diversity crisis. The top four candidates right now are Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, and Elizabeth Warren. Biden would be only the second Catholic president. Sanders would be the first Jewish president and the first socialist one. Buttigieg would be the first openly gay (and youngest) president. Warren would be the first female president.” — Jonah Goldberg, National Review

The party’s obligation is to try to win, not to be representative

“A political party doesn’t have a responsibility to field a group of presidential candidates precisely matching the national profile, and it’s hard to imagine how a party could arrange to do so.” — Michael Barone, Washington Examiner

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Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP